TMJ and related neck and shoulder pain
Temporomandibular disorder is often called TMJ, although this is actually the abbreviation for the joint that this disorder affects.
The proper abbreviation for temporomandibular disorder is TMD, and it negatively affects one of the most important joints in the body, the jaw, which can have some surprising and severe effects on the surrounding areas of the face, neck and back if left untreated.
Causes of TMD
No one knows the exact cause of this disorder, but most specialists believe that the causes of TMD are related to whiplash neck injuries, jaw injuries that lead to dislocation of the cushion in the temporomandibular joint, or severe grinding of teeth–possibly due to stress or simple genetics. Other potential causes of TMD include osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis which can affect the health of the temporomandibular joint as well as other joints in the body.
How surrounding muscles are affected
Most people know the song “Dem Bones.” Kindergarteners learn basic anatomy with it’s simple lyrics:
Toe bone connected to the foot bone,
Foot bone connected to the leg bone,
Leg bone connected to the knee bone…
And the truth is that this really is exactly the way it goes. When the temporomandibular joint is misaligned, injured or compromised in any other way it requires extra effort to chew, talk or even yawn. Since the jaw muscles are capable of only so much effort, other muscles of the face, neck and even shoulders must be recruited to make up for the difference in strength required.
Of course, even though these muscles are connected to the jawbone, they aren’t really designed for this task. Over time, it can become very painful and exhausting for these muscles to compensate in this way, just as a hip may become painful when a person is limping to compensate for a bad knee.
Symptoms of TMD
The symptoms of TMD vary from person to person, especially because the cause of the disorder varies among sufferers, yet a TMJ dentist can identify the disorder based upon a careful patient history and observation of some or all of the following TMD symptoms;
- Recurring earaches, hearing difficulties or tinnitus (a constant, high-pitched ringing in the ears)
- Locked jaw or limited ability to open and close the jaw
- Recurring shoulder pain
- Popping or clicking in the jaw when chewing or otherwise moving the jaw
- Difficulty chewing
- A constant feeling of tiredness in the face and surrounding muscles
- Swelling on one or both sides of the face
How TMJ neck pain is diagnosed
Usually the pain of TMD leads a patient to a doctor at first to rule out other disorders that have the same symptoms. If other causes have been ruled out, such as sinus problems or gum disease, a dentist will conduct a thorough examination of the patient’s jaw and ask how often symptoms such as combination neck shoulder pain or jaw tenderness occur.
The dentist will most likely ask the patient to open their jaw as wide as possible with hands on both side to feel and listen for the trademark clicking sound or feel of grinding joints. If several of the symptoms have been occurring for a significant amount of time along with limited movement or clicking of the jaw, and the symptoms are severe enough to be a problem for the patient, effective treatment options will be recommended.
While the causes of TMD are varied and not always well understood, it is a serious disorder that can lead to painful complications. In fact, TMJ neck pain can be a very distressing part of daily life and should never be taken lightly.
For those who are searching for an experienced and compassionate TMJ dentist in Beverly, Dr. Polan has a warm, friendly and caring staff that can help with TMD and all of its associated symptoms. Dr. Polan’s professional staff will thoroughly explain the diagnostic process while informing patients of the best treatment options available to achieve the most positive outcome and eventual relief from the daily grind of TMD.